All Mixed Up

Chapter Five: "Baltar's Escape" - part 1


Apollo paused in front of the memo board outside the Wing offices and glared at the piece of paper hanging up next to the NCOD schedule. Offical Galactica letterhead, crisp clean anonymous laser printer, no signature...

Starhound Viper Preflight Checklist

1. Approach the spacecraft with a reckless, devil-may-care but confident attitude. This will make a favourable imprssion on the maintenance technical officer. Try not to trip over the air and electrical lines as this will not make a good impression upon the technical officer.
2. Ask the technical officer what day it is and mark it down in grease pencil upon the side of the spacecraft. Then ask what time it is and mark that down too. Caution: Do not stow your grease pencil in the afterburner.
3. Conduct your preflight inspection in a rapid but deliberate manner. Be sure to vigourously kick all the landing struts. When you come to a complicated part of the spacecraft like a wingtip or a pitot tube, stare at it seriously for several centons. This creates a favourable impression upon the technical officer and makes him think you know what you are doing. Try to avoid shaking your head and clucking your tongue as this worries the technical officer. Be sure to peer intently into the all exhaust vents, gun ports, and landing gear housings.
4. When you have finished the inspection, check the nose number of the spacecraft. Then proceed rapidly to your assigned spacecraft and repeat steps 1 through 3.

Apollo sighed. There was more. Much more.
9. Start the engine. Advance the throttle to military power and stand by for the technical officer's signals. When he begins waving frantically at you, resist the temptation to wave back. Rapidly rearrange the position of the throttle, levers, and buttons in the cockpit until the technical officer stops waving at you...
And yes, all right, it was amusing. He did have a sense of humor and he did think it was a clever parody. But parody belonged in magazines, not on Wing adminstrative (not "administrivia") boards. He had had a very bad day yesterday and he did not want to see something like this here.

The problem was there was no good way to deal with it. No one would admit it was his, and there was no way to find the author. True, a few clues pointed to someone from Libris, spelling and word choice, but that was easily imitated and so useless. If he brought it up in the morning briefing, he'd sound humorless and like a petty tyrant. If he mentioned it in the morning meeting on the bridge he'd sound like an incompetent humorless petty tyrant. And if he just ripped it down, well. He'd learned quickly back on the Acky-D in his first command that the thing about something like this was, there was undoubtedly a gross of prints hidden away, and if he ripped it down all one hundred and forty four times, someone, somewhere, had a disk and would just print up more. There was no way to win that fight.

He sighed again, shook his head ostentatiously in case someone was looking, and went into his office. Sitting down, he had to snicker. Move all the worn and shiny switches in the opposite direction to the way you found them originally. Avoid touching the switches that do not appear to have been moved before... It was funny.

He just wished they'd have the sense to route things like that around surreptitiously instead of posting them out in the open for God and Colonel Tigh to read.

He sighed again and reached for the first thing in his In-Box. What with everything happening the last few days, he hadn't gotten much done. And yesterday he hadn't gotten anything done. Well, no paperwork, anyway. He supposed Colonel Tigh wouldn't complain much if things were a bit late, considering they'd gotten the Council off their backs, and the bridge, and back where they belonged, and Baltar back where he belonged, and...

The slender sheaf of papers shook in his hand. He dropped them on the desk and clenched his fist, feeling the sharp pain of his fingernails biting into his palm. Yesterday had been too close. Much too close. He could have lost Sheba.

He could have lost Boomer.

He could have lost... He clenched his fist harder and deliberately steadied his breathing. Adama was fine. Adama was unhurt and well. He hadn't lost his father. He had just seen him, not twenty centons ago, at the morning meeting. He was fine. It was just...

He could have gotten himself killed. Baltar was a lunatic even if sometimes he seemed smoothly in control of himself; Apollo had sweated every micron of the time he'd had to trust Starbuck's life to him—and your own, the implacable little voice reminded him, just as Adama had yesterday. He shook his head, rejecting the comparison. It wasn't valid, if only because he'd known Karybdis would leave Baltar no choice. And because Adama was irreplaceable and not just to him.

He and Athena had united in yelling at their father for his incredible recklessness. Even Starbuck had put in a word or two before pulling himself up and leaving the family alone. They'd had to be a bit muted and restrained until Siress Tinia finally got the message and, long centons later, followed Starbuck out, but then Athena had really cut loose until she'd launched herself at Adama and cried all over him. Apollo had envied her women's vast range of acceptable emotional displays; he'd had to be content with a long hug once he'd stopped being angry.

A sudden thought struck him and he smiled. Try not to surrender to raving lunatics and get yourself held hostage as this worries your son... Too bad he wasn't creative enough for a whole list. Maybe he'd drop a word in Starbuck's ear and let that man find the author. Not that Adama would pay any attention to it. As Ila had said more than once, Apollo's own stubborn streak and overdeveloped sense of honor hadn't come from her side of the family.

He sighed again. At least the day's events had gotten the Council off Adama's back, and by extension the whole military's, at least for a while. It had been galling to listen to them patronize the commander—without whom not one fracking one of them would still be alive, for Sagan's sake—to see that Siress standing on the bridge, presuming to approve or disapprove of every order. Tigh had fumed and nearly gotten himself written up, and Apollo himself had thanked the Lords his own duty station was far enough away that he could pretend it wasn't happening at least some of the time. He'd envied Omega's personal style very much while it was going on: the man had never actually ignored Tinia but he'd somehow made it clear that her presence was outside the rhythms of operations and he'd never spoken to her until the crisis. Of course, Apollo understood that Omega was detached, always had been anyway and was now by virtue of not being Adama's son. Still, he wished he had that sort of skill.

He wished he could ignore Tinia.

But he hadn't been able to before and now he wasn't sure that was going to be at all possible.

After he and Athena had left their father's quarters the evening before he'd gone to hers and they'd sat up half the night talking. Neither one of them was ready for a step-mother. Neither one of them was sure how they'd feel if Adama wanted to remarry, neither of them wanted him to be unhappy, but even if they were ready for it (which they weren't if they were honest) they weren't ready for it to be Tinia. How they'd have felt about her if she hadn't been a prime mover in that aborted attempt to take over the Fleet—to re-establish civilian control over the lives and fates of the civilian population, he corrected himself conscientiously and then snorted. Felgarcarb. Not that he was in favor of a military dictatorship by any means, but this was hardly the time to pretend that the Council could run things, especially not with the Peace so raw in everyone's mind. Everyone in uniform, at any rate...

He sighed again. If only. The most futile two words in Standard. The fact was that Siress Tinia had been part of that, and had been the one to actually stand there dictating action (or lack of it) to the military while the situation went rapidly from very bad to much worse. And she'd been hostage with Adama, and they'd emerged anything but wary of each other. The sight of her eyeing Adama like, like, like... well, words failed him, but it hadn't been easy to keep quiet about even in the general euphoria of Adama not being dead and Baltar being re-arrested (and hopefully Reese's successor would be able to keep him locked up).

That thought made Apollo smile a little, though he quickly and guiltily stopped himself. Starbuck hadn't been so restrained: "It's an ill wind," he'd said when Reese's death after the Nomen's attack had been confirmed. Apollo couldn't bring himself to go that far, but he had to admit that it would be much more pleasant without that particular security boray around.

Tinia wasn't going away that easily, though, it looked like. He and Athena had decided to keep their mouths shut about her for the moment, to act as if they hadn't noticed a thing. It wasn't, after all, as though Adama was doing anything but being polite, even if it was in a genial manner like they hadn't seen before. ("He's flirting!" Athena had said in despair. "No, no, he's not," Apollo had insisted, but not convincingly.) And it wasn't as though Ila had been dead only a matter of sectons, either. It was over a yahren, after all, if only just over. But it was awkward.

Worst, Apollo knew he stood on very shaky ground when it came to protesting a widower's remarriage, and he was quite sure that saying, "But I'm thirty-two. You're a hundred and fourteen!" would not go over well. And after all he certainly hoped to live that long, if not even longer, and he hoped to be capable of passion the whole way. He could probably argue with more success that his son was only seven and needed two parents, but he doubted that he had the right to ask Adama to stay single just because his children were grown. But he would have thought that forty yahrens of marriage would make you wait longer to get married again.

Athena had said, thoughtfully, that maybe it was a compliment to their mother if indeed she'd made marriage so wonderful that Adama didn't want to live alone. Or maybe, she'd added, he was just in the habit of thinking of himself as married, or didn't believe in fooling around. And although she might well be right, even though Apollo didn't particularly want to think of Adama fooling around, sealed or not, what had struck him was how quiet Athena was.

He sighed yet again. His sister had been very quiet in the last couple of sectons, so quiet that his automatic "I knew I shouldn't have let Boomer date you!" had turned into "Are you all right, Thenie? I know you said it was your decision, but are you missing him?"

"And if I were, what?" She'd smiled up at him. "You'd order him back? Not everything is so simple... But thank you, Ap." And she'd kissed his cheek quickly. "I'm just thinking about my future, that's all."

"That would be depressing," he'd joked, but he was a bit worried about her. She wasn't depressed, exactly, but she hadn't been even to the O Club since the break up. He wished they were in the habit of confiding to each other. If again...

He shook his head briskly and picked up the papers he'd dropped earlier. Time to think about something he could actually do something about.

RFI: proposed revision to regulations, section forty-five-gamma. Forty-five Gamma? Fraternization? What was this about, Apollo wondered. He simply couldn't imagine Tigh deciding it was all right for officers and enlisted to see each other socially as the regs so coyly put it, so if he'd noticed that was happening in at least one, if not more, case ("If I get called on it, I'll resign my commission and go back to shuttles," Robin had said cheerfully, not knowing he was listening to her and Boomer. "There's a shortage there, too, after all." And she'd added, "I'll resign if Gi gets called on it, too."), then Apollo feared something fairly heavy-handed. Tigh had strong notions of... not right and wrong, exactly, but suitable and un-. It wasn't like he approved of it himself, but flight-corporals and -sergeants were an awkward hybrid at best and given the overall circumstances he'd decided to ignore it as long as he could. Lords knew they really couldn't afford to lose any Viper pilots.

He blew out a gusty breath. A nice fight with Tigh: that would be fun. He peeled off the note and read it, and the anticipation waned in favor of wariness.

Apollo: read over this and have your input ready by next Thirday, please. I'm aware this is going to have personal impact, but I strongly believe we have no choice at the moment, given all the circumstances. FYI, Omega agrees.—Tigh
Personal impact? What did that mean? Perhaps if he read it, he'd have some idea, he told himself, and he turned to the actual proposal. The first section was what he'd been worried about; though Tigh acknowledged that losing Warriors wasn't a good idea he was drafting regs diametrically opposed to fraternization across the officer/enlisted gap. Enlisted still got busted a grade; now officers would be reduced as well, instead of dismissed, and transferred to another ship, unless they were in a "mission critical billet" in which case it was the EM who got shipped out. If they were both MCB, then they got to be confined... Apollo shook his head. That might work with most jobs, but it was going to be hard to confine a pilot without getting most of the rest of them mad at you. Robin and Giles were both popular, and as an item, according to something he'd overheard before the speaker had seen him coming, even more so since Robin kept Giles too busy for him to get into trouble. But personal impact? Only if having half the wing hating him counted.

But when he moved on to the next section he wasn't so sure that was what Tigh had meant. In fact, he was sure it hadn't been: it was rather oblique for him, whereas this wasn't: a careful outline of every section in the Fleet to allow for chain-of-command relationships "where it would prove disruptive to ship's functions to transfer one of the parties involved". Schema were provided to show who the new rater and evaluator would be for the lower ranking member, including one in which Tigh rated any first-line bridge officer who became romantically involved with the ICOB or any squadron leader who became involved with the strike captain, and Adama rated any strike captain or ICOB who became involved with the Colonel.

Apollo baredly even noticed the final, short paragraph, which dealt with unsealed pregnancy (a hefty fine for taking oneself out of combat status if that applied but no other penalties), specified that adultery would still be subject to administrative action as conduct unbecoming, and stated that same-sex relationships were subject to the same regs as opposite-sex ones. He was staring at his unexpected reluctance to take advantage of asking Tigh to become Sheba's rater.

He wasn't sure why Tigh had written that note, but maybe he knew Apollo wasn't sure of his plans. Maybe he knew that once it was out Sheba would expect... Or... wait. He went back and reread that section. Was Athena hankering after Omega? He'd was her rater, and he was a stickler for regs... Well. If that was the case, then Apollo was all in favor of it. Anything to get Athena to settle down, and Omega was, if a bit dull, a good man from a good family. And maybe Athena needed, not dull but steady. Like Boomer, but... But why would Tigh think he needed to be warned about that? If that had in fact been a warning. He shook his head. He didn't know what Tigh thought, unless it was that he would be reluctant himself.

But he wasn't, he told himself. He was reluctant to presume, but that was all. Yes, his first passionate desire for Sheba had cooled, but after all that wasn't the sort of thing that really could last, was it? And Sheba wasn't like Serina, ready to meet passion with passion on such short notice. Sheba was cooler, more calculating—no, not that. More careful. Reckless a bit in the cockpit but, like him, cautious out of it. He was in fact glad to know that when he was ready to talk to her about getting serious, the whole fraternization issue would be a moot point. When. It had only been five sectares, after all.

And he wasn't going to think about what personal impact that last line might have had on him had things been different. Because they weren't different, and even if his, their, careers would no longer suffer, even if they could still stay in the service, there was still no way he could... And absolutely no way Starbuck was going to give up the exquisite Cassiopeia for another man. So there was no point in thinking about it.

None at all.

With the ease of long yahrens' practice he pulled his straying mind off his wingmate, knowing it would go back there tonight, and instead began trying to decide what in Sagan's name he could do about the Robin-Giles problem.


"Hey, buddy," Starbuck caught up with Boomer. "All recovered from your little excitement?"

"Little exci—" Boomer bit the rest of it off and glared at Starbuck. "That was as close to death as I've come in a while, and closer than I like getting."

Starbuck grinned at him. "You've been closer."

"Maybe. Like I said, it was closer than I like getting."

Starbuck sobered up a little. "You may have picked the wrong career, then."

Boomer sighed and opened his locker. "Tell me something I didn't figure out for myself yahrens ago."

Starbuck shook his head. "Perhaps it's for the best, though." He pulled off his jacket and elaborated, "I mean, nodding at Death from across the street a couple of times a secton is still better than having him drop in, right?"

"Where do you get these things?" Boomer asked, putting away his blaster.

"What? You think I couldn't think of something like that?"

"Yeah." Boomer waited, and then added, patiently, "I mean, I do think you couldn't."

"Hmph," Starbuck feigned insult. "Well, as a matter of fact," he paused as he yanked off his tunic, "it's Libran. I got it from Giles." He pulled off his rank pins and tossed the tunic at the laundry chute, apparently not noticing when it hit the floor instead.

Boomer sat on his bunk to unbuckle his boots. "Libris must have been one weird place."

"Don't say that where Giles can hear you," Starbuck grinned, contorting himself to unbuckle his own boots without sitting.

Boomer caught himself looking around and was glad his skin was too dark to show a blush, at least easily. He bent over to put his boots away and peeled off his trousers. "He's not around much anymore," he said.

Starbuck tossed his pants after his tunic. "Speaking of which, has Apollo said anything to you about them?"

He didn't need the 'them' identified. "No. He's not supposed to know about them." He crossed over to the laundry chute and dropped his uniform down it; almost involuntarily he picked up the blond's and tossed it as well.

Starbuck snorted. "Of course he's not supposed to know, 'cause then he'd have to do something. But do you really think he hasn't noticed? This is Apollo we're talking about, and this is his wing, and Giles is even in his Own, remember? So has he said anything?"

"Why would he?"

"Because," Starbuck said, finally picking out a cream-colored shirt, "you're his wing second. He tells you things. Especially things about new regs that he might want you to do something about that he can't. Officially."

"If I had your spy network," Boomer said, taking out the first shirt he saw. One nice thing about being single again, he didn't have to worry about what he was going to wear. And he was single. Very firmly so.

Starbuck grinned at him. "You're too pure of heart, Boom-Boom."

The comment took him by surprise and it was almost a centon before he realized that Starbuck was responding to his remark about spies and not his thoughts. Of course, by then the blond had registered that something was amiss. Boomer sighed. Maybe he should transfer to a frigate, get away from Starbuck as well. Of course, unless he did it this very centon it wasn't going to help. He slammed his locker shut. "Pure or not," he said, "I'm thirsty. You coming?"

"Of course." Starbuck grabbed his shoes out of his locker and shut it. "But you're not getting away with it that easily."

"You keep telling me things I already know," sighed Boomer. "At least let me drink while you grill me."

Starbuck laughed, but Boomer knew that laugh. It was Starbuck's 'I'm on to you, don't think I'm not' laugh. He headed for the O Club, and transferring to that frigate looked like the best idea he'd ever had. Too bad he hadn't followed through on it that morning. But by the time they had found seats and started on their drinks, he'd thought of something. He spoke first.

"As a matter of fact, he did mention the new regs to me. He's not all that happy about them as far as that particular situation goes, because nothing much is changed."

"That's too bad," Starbuck said, sounding sincere. "I always did like Robin."

"Was she a Galactica pilot?"

Starbuck shook his head in mock sorrow. "Yes, she was. She'd been aboard for three yahrens." He didn't have to add, 'before Cimtar.' Everything was dated from the Destruction now, from when the worlds had ended. "I can't believe she never caught your eye, Boomer."

"Not all of us spend all our time looking around." Although maybe I should have.

Starbuck grinned. "Liar. You just don't admit to it."

Damned right. "I should think she could do better."

"Jealous?" Starbuck said lightly, and then added in a more serious tone, "Nowadays, what's better than Giles? He's a Warrior, and a damned good pilot, and whatever else there was hardly matters anymore."

That was true enough, but it hadn't been what Boomer had meant, and he was a bit irritated at the misinterpretation. "You know I don't care about that."

"I know," Starbuck had the grace to look a little ashamed. "And I know Gi can be annoying, but I like him, too."

"Two of a kind."

"I like that," Starbuck replied with mock indignation and then dismissed the topic. "So if there's nothing new on that front, what's going on?"

"What makes you think anything is?" Boomer asked with malice aforethought.

"Oh, please, Boomer. This is me, remember? I can tell something's on your mind."

He took a drink and said, "Well, it's those regs. Not officer/other ranks, though."

"Not? What's the colonel playing at?"

"He's apparently realized that we've got a rather limited playing-around field."


"That he's easing up on within-rank-grade fraternization. Writing rules to move someone to a different rater if need be."

One thing about Starbuck: he faced things head on. Always had. "So there's no official barrier up between him and Sheba?" And it was typical of Starbuck that that 'him' needed no antecedent in his mind. "I mean, obviously back in the crisis the commander let him and Serina... but she could have gone into another squadron afterwards."

"Exactly," Boomer said and then tossed his anti-personnel weapon. "Also no barrier between him and you."

Starbuck stared at him. "What the frack is that supposed to mean?"

"Just what I said." He felt a bit bad, but Starbuck always cited policy when they did talk about it, and better aggravating him over this than letting him get wind of what had almost happened. Hadn't happened. "They're thinking about changing policy, letting flit officers get promoted to lieutenant and beyond."

"That's nice for them," Starbuck said, obstinately refusing to rise to the bait. "Not that I know any, that I know of—" Something flickered in his eyes but Boomer couldn't put his finger on it, and Starbuck was forging ahead anyway. "And that most emphatically includes Apollo, and you frackin' well know it. Why are you starting with me on this? What are you trying to distract me from? 'Cause you know perfectly well Apollo just isn't interested, not isn't interested in risking his career. He didn't have to get married to make Captain, and he doesn't have to get married now. He just wants to."

And Boomer heard himself say, "You couldn't prove it by me."

In the silence that followed that remark he thought, Great Sagan, why did you say that? And he remembered with frightening clarity what he'd been trying to forget since the previous afternoon: fiery brown eyes, long honey-colored hair, a sudden explosion of passion and an equally sudden recoiling and retreat... Lords and Ladies, Boomer, you are in a world of trouble.

"And what does that mean?" Starbuck demanded. Then, being Starbuck, he leapt to a conclusion close but not entirely correct. "What happened yesterday? What did you do?"

"Nothing," Boomer protested, because it too was so nearly true. What's a kiss, or two, more or less, anyway? "Not a thing. Just—"

"Just what? You and Sheba were together all day almost, hostages and... How could you do that to him?"

"I didn't do anything to him! Damn it, Starbuck, he wasn't even on my mind. I'm not you, I don't filter every action through how-will-Apollo-feel. And it's not like anything happened, anyway."

"Yeah? So what did that little remark mean? She tried it on, is that what you mean?" The blue eyes were blazing.

"Starbuck, keep your voice down, for the gods' sakes! And, no, I don't mean that. It's just—damnit, Starbuck, you know what it's like, coming so close to death. You know how it makes you feel. But nothing happened." And then, because he didn't want this blond fury after her, he added, which was nothing less than the truth, "And what did happen, which was nothing, she didn't start it and she did stop it."

"You wanted it to happen?"

"Sagan, why couldn't I just keep my mouth shut?" And he meant that, so sincerely that Starbuck quieted immediately, looking at him in silence for a couple of centons.

"Because," Starbuck's voice was calm, "your subconscious wanted it out in the open, that's why."

"Yeah? Well, my subconscious should be locked up."

"Too late... I thought you were in love with Athena."

"So did I. I guess I was wrong." He drained his glass and filled it from the pitcher. He'd figured it out this morning, flying picket. That sudden fall for Athena, it was mostly because she was there and available and not Apollo's new love. If she'd loved him back, he'd probably have gotten over Sheba, but she hadn't, and he hadn't, and as soon as Apollo started putting him and Sheba together on the same shift he'd fallen all the way. When they flew together it got worse. And yesterday... if they hadn't ended up hostages it was likely neither one of them would have paid enough attention to each other to realize his stunt with the security guards was showing off, for her. But they had, and so they had. And she hadn't been offended by it. Anything but... He sighed. "Leave me alone, Starbuck."

"No. You can't go after her. You can't steal Apollo's girlfriend."

"Look," he said, angry now, "I have absolutely no intention of getting in Apollo's way, but Sheba's not his property, you know. She's not available for stealing. If she goes, it'll be because she wants to."

"Well, she doesn't."

"Okay, then." Though it wasn't, of course, and even Starbuck knew it or he wouldn't have thought Boomer had a chance. Realizing that, Boomer lost his anger.

They stared at each other a centon or two, and then Starbuck's eyes grew troubled. "She doesn't, does she?"

Boomer sighed. "She didn't tell me she did. But, you know, it takes two. And I mean Apollo."

Those blue eyes flared. "What's that supposed to mean? You know he's serious."

"Do I?" He went on quickly. "More to the point, does she? Where was he last night?"

"Where were you?"

Boomer restrained his anger; he knew how Starbuck felt. He didn't understand it, but that wasn't new. "I went to the Star and got laid. And I don't know where she went, she didn't tell me and I didn't see her. But you tell me: where was he?"

"His father's," Starbuck said. "And then Athena's..."

"Yeah. The first is understandable, but the second? He was with his sister while his girlfriend was recovering from that? Would he have left you alone at a time like that? Would he have even left me?"

"What's that 'even'?"

Boomer shrugged, ignoring the attempt to deflect him. "I know what Apollo says, but I've got eyes."

"Are you starting again?"

"I'm not going there if you don't want to, but I don't have to to make my point. I'm not getting in his way, but if he's not there..." Boomer blew out a long breath. "Gods, Starbuck, I'm so confused right now. Could you just let me alone?"

"Sorry, Boom-Boom. I mean, I know you wouldn't... Are you serious?"

"I don't know. Yes," he added after a moment. "I think I fell for her almost as soon as he did. It's not important."

"Not much it's not. But it is one hell of a mess." He brooded over his glass.

Boomer hated seeing him like that. Personally, if he'd been carrying a torch for a guy for so long and finally heard that it wouldn't screw up his career plus that he might not be so interested in his girlfriend, he'd have been bubbling with happiness. Trust Starbuck to do it his own way. "Look," he said finally, "she probably went where she usually goes when she isn't with him or Athena. And you said there's nothing between her and Bojay, so..." And maybe he did understand Starbuck, at that.

"Bojay," Starbuck said. "Yeah, you're probably right." He shook his head and manufactured a smile. "Maybe I should point out to Apollo that he needs to spend a little more time with her if she's not going to laugh in his face when he proposes."

"I don't think she'd laugh," Boomer said and heard himself sounding so wistful it startled him.

"If we were in a vid," Starbuck said abruptly, "no one would believe us. Sorry, Boom-Boom."

"I'll survive."

"I know. But, well, I know."

"Forget it." He straightened in his seat. "Let's get drunk."

"Sounds like a plan," Starbuck agreed, waving at the waiter.


Across the table Athena raised her hand and signalled the waiter to bring them another round. Sheba's glass still had a couple of fingers in it; she raised it and downed the slightly citrus drink in a single swallow. After two yahrens of the same-old, same-old of the Peggy, life in the Last Fleet did have its compensations to go along with its problems. Civilized drinks were one. Actual time off was another. A future... well, to be honest she hadn't decided if that was a compensation or a problem. They'd all junked the concept of a future so thoroughly that it was still hard to adjust to having one.

Usually she was sure that her fear of committing to something that would last for decades was the reason she kept pulling back from Apollo and the future he offered. Sometimes, though, she thought he was offering for all the wrong reasons and that was what she was sensing, why she helped him never quite get to the point of putting it into words.

And now, of course, she was completely confused about everything. Maybe Bojay had the right idea, after all. Except that he, irritatingly, was now having second thoughts himself. Futures, again... She sighed. Not having one had made life so much simpler. Nothing had had any consequences.

Yesterday had been terrifyingly fraught with consequences.

After she'd suddenly remembered Apollo and pulled away from Boomer, seeing her confusion reflected in his dark eyes along with her desire, after she'd stammered some disjointed phrase or other and actually bolted out of the debriefing room, after she'd fetched up in her quarters, shaking and angry (though not sure at what, or whom), she'd called Apollo. Starbuck had answered, telling her that Apollo was at his father's and he didn't know if he'd be back. She'd left no message and called Bojay, who had shown up within centons.

"Come on," he'd said comfortably, "don't worry. I know you weren't combat track, but didn't you have Physiology of Stress?"

"I don't remember a course like that."

He'd smiled. "Well, maybe SMA didn't figure girls would get stressed."

She'd snorted. "More likely they didn't want to put notions in our heads. Gods forbid they actually give us any useful information."

He'd laughed; her complaints about the Sagittan educational system always amused him though he sympathized with her when she wished her father had put her up for his alma mater instead of the one her mother's family entitled her to. Of course, the Sagittans had taught her to fly... "Anyway," Bojay had added, "you've been stressed. You know what it is."

"The reflex to procreate before going out and actually succeeding in getting yourself killed the next time?" She'd shaken her head. "With Boomer, though? Just because he was there?"

"Probably not," he'd grown serious. "He'd been through it, too. And you like Boomer, right? I mean, you seem to get along with him."

"I do, of course. But..."

"No buts, girl. You like him, and he was there, and Apollo wasn't. Isn't, I suppose, since you've settled for me."

"He's at his father's," she'd said, avoiding that sidepath. "I called."

He'd shrugged. "Don't worry. It wouldn't have counted, anyway."

"I don't think Apollo would agree with. Or Boomer," she'd realized.

"Or you." He'd hugged her. "It's okay, Sheba. You didn't do anything to be ashamed of. You're only human, after all."

She'd relaxed in his hold, and realized that she didn't want to talk about it any more. It was too recent, too jumbled. She needed some perspective on it, some distance to give it clarity. So she'd turned the subject a little, and they'd spent the next few centares drinking and discussing exactly what Cain would have done with the whole notion of the Council trying to run things.

It wasn't until she had woken up in the morning to find Bojay still there, sound asleep and looking as uncomplicated and innocent as someone already losing his hair and in need of a shave could, that she had realized it was his night for going to the Rising Star and meeting his... whatever you called it. 'Lover' sounded so personal, but it was the same man every time, and Boj actually seemed to know stuff about him, like where he was from and what books he liked to read, so 'sex partner' seemed a bit impersonal. Gods, she'd realized then, she really wanted 'lover' to be the right word. She'd seen the look in Boj's eyes when he had been coaxed to talk about the man and it was the same sort of look she'd seen there when he'd been with Mao.

Of course, he'd been with Mao openly, not once or twice a secton in secret. But that wasn't possible here. Still, she'd thought, he could at least know the man's name. Was that asking so much? She'd sighed and brushed his hair back off his face. She'd have missed him like nobody's business but maybe he'd have been better off on the Peggy, where her father ran things his own way and the hell with the service even before Molecay. Been happier somewhere where he could fall in love again without all this peripheral felgarcarb when Mao stopped being a hurt and became a good memory. Somewhere where he was valued for his whole self, not just the part that someone thought was acceptable.

"Hey." She'd missed his waking up. "What's up?"

"Actually, I was thinking about you and Mao," she'd said.

"Really?" He'd yawned and shaken his head. "Whatever for?"

"You were supposed to go to that club last night, weren't you? I'm sorry."

He'd looked at his chrono, running his hand through his hair and automatically smoothing it back down. "No problem." He'd sat up and stretched. "It's not like we have a standing date or anything. He'll figure I was on duty."

"I hope so. I didn't mean to make you miss it."

"It won't kill me. You know I'm here for you when you need it."

"I know." That seemed so inadequate, looking back, but there hadn't been anything else to say.

After a moment he'd said, "So why were you thinking about Mao? Just general nostalgia, or you still disapproving of my private life?"

"I am not. Well, not exactly. I just think you deserve... different."

He'd shrugged. "Not every commander is your dad."

"He always said you and Mao were two of his best pilots."

"We were," he'd nodded; like most pilots, there was no false modesty there. "But he was a force of nature, your dad. Made his own rules. He should never have promoted us to lieutenant."

"He thought that was stupid. And you know it: why else did he make you captain and acting Wing after Volodymyr died? It wasn't like there wasn't anybody else. He hadn't confirmed it because he didn't want to take you out of a Viper and put you behind a desk. After he came over here and saw Apollo double-hatting as wing commander and squadron leader he meant to make you do the same—" She'd had to laugh at his expression. Punching him lightly, she'd said, "It would have been an honor, you idiot."

"Sounds like it would have been twice as much work," he'd grumbled, but under it he'd been pleased. She'd been saving it for a moment when he needed bucking up a bit, and she hoped this was the right one. She was so glad he was thinking about the future again. Sooner or later a squadron leader spot would open up here, and she'd make sure Apollo knew Bojay was overqualified for the job. And nobody from the Peggy, not even Glyn and Silas who were morally opposed to homosexuality, would breathe a word that would jeopardize any of their futures.

"It's not like Apollo has much free time, seems like," Bojay had added.

"What you mean," she'd said, "is that he doesn't spend it all with me. You are aware that we aren't promised yet? In fact, we've only known each other half a yahren."

"And you know he met and married his first wife in a sixth that."

"And a lot of people think that was too fast," she'd answered, and he'd read her tone and changed the subject, and then he'd had to leave to get ready to go on shift. She hoped... actually, she wasn't sure what she hoped. That he was right and missing an evening hadn't ruined his affair, she supposed, but she had never reconciled herself to it. She hated it, in fact, and even though she knew that here on the Galactica he'd have to be circumspect, and she was angrier on his behalf than he was over that, she couldn't help believing that he'd be happier if he could do the simple things again, just eat dinner with his lover.

She sighed. Worrying over Bojay's future was easier than worrying over her own, but it wouldn't help, not either of them.

"What's that for?" Athena's voice startled her; she'd almost forgotten she wasn't alone. "Problems?"

Sheba looked across the table into the other woman's pale blue eyes. They were usually a trio on these girls' nights out, but this secton was the one where the three of them were all on different shifts. She didn't mind, really, though she thought Athena was more comfortable with Cassie there. For herself, though she'd come to like Cassie well enough, there was always a bit of forcing required. And tonight she was glad the blonde wasn't there for another reason: she wasn't sure how they could talk about Apollo and Boomer without Starbuck coming into it. And if Cassie was serious about Starbuck... Oh for, she thought. How do things get so complicated, anyway?

"You could say that," she said. "But when couldn't you?"

Athena laughed. "How true that is." She paused, and then asked, "Anything I can help you with? Need my brother explained, for instance?"

"I might take you up on that sometime," Sheba replied. "But actually... If I can get personal?"

"Of course you can. Friends are allowed to ask personal questions." Her smile was impish.

Sheba turned her glass around a couple of times, trying to decide. If she asked, she'd have to talk about it. But getting drunk hadn't helped, and neither had thinking about it on her own, and what had especially not helped was listening to Boomer's voice over channel two when they'd been on patrol. Avoiding him afterwards had been easy, because he was avoiding her, but the few times during the day when they'd had to be in the same room... Maybe, she thought, maybe Athena's answer would settle it.

"Why did you break up with Boomer?"

Athena blinked startled blue eyes. Clearly that hadn't been the question she'd been expecting. "Why did I—Why?"

"Well, I mean, was it something he did? Is there something about him—"

"Boomer? No," Athena shook her head decisively. "There's nothing wrong with Boomer; he's a perfectly wonderful man..." Her voice trailed off and she cocked her head to one side. "He is, actually. Our breakup had nothing to do with him at all. You don't find him nice? Or you do?"

"I don't know. Oh, of course I know, he's very nice, I've always thought so. It's just... lately I've noticed he's..."

"Yes?" The brunette was encouraging.

"Trying to impress me, I guess, though I don't think he realized it."

"Is he succeeding?"

"Well..." She sighed and then shrugged. "There wouldn't be a problem if he weren't, I guess. I haven't gone off Apollo, I don't mean that. It's just..."

"I don't think dating someone means you aren't allowed to notice other people. Men do it all the time, after all."

"I haven't before."

"Are you serious?" Athena was a portrait of surprise: raised eyebrows, open mouth, wide eyes.

Sheba felt a bit defensive. "Yes. I really haven't ever been that serious about anybody before this, though. So I mean, I've noticed other men, of course, just haven't been in a situation where it felt wrong."

"Oh, well," Athena shook her head. "I wouldn't worry about it. Boomer's quite a good specimen, after all, eminently notice-worthy. And it's not like Apollo has been monopolizing your time, after all."


Athena raised a slender, arched eyebrow. "'No'? Just 'No'? Maybe I should drop a word in his ear for you?"

"No, don't do that. I mean," she backtracked, "I don't think that's such a good idea, telling a man he has to forget about his friends. I know I don't want to give up mine. Not that Apollo has asked me to, though I don't think he's ever going to be good friends with Bojay. But couples can't go everywhere joined at the hip, can they? I mean, they're individuals, right? And Boomer told me—a long time ago," she hastily added, "that Apollo was actually ready to give up Starbuck for his wife and that he, Boomer I mean, was glad I didn't mind them, him and Starbuck, hanging out with Apollo. I mean, Apollo is glad, too... Oh, for." She shook her head. "I don't really know what I mean," she admitted.

"I think you mean that you don't mind if Apollo skives off with Starbuck when he ought to be taking you places so you can get to know each other well enough to decide if you should get Sealed, which would annoy me considerably I have to say. Unless of course you already know and the two of you are just waiting until it's been a yahren since Serina died to make your announcement... or, knowing my brother, to start really public dating. Is that it? If so, you're right about him and Starbuck and Boomer; he'll be happier if he can keep them as friends, and I always did think Serina was riding for a fall."

Sheba wondered briefly how true that was; there was a doubtful tone in Athena's voice, as if she thought Boomer's assessment was right and Apollo had been willing to sacrifice his friendship. Thought it, or feared it. But in Sheba's opinion what Apollo might have been willing to do while reeling from the Destruction and what he was willing to do now weren't necessarily the same. Lords knew, plenty of people had gone more than a little crazy when everything ended. Athena was probably talking about the inevitable fallout from Apollo's getting his feet back under him; Sheba had seen enough of his temper in the last half-yahren to guess that wouldn't have been pretty. But she didn't waste much time on that thought because she needed to set Athena straight.

"No," she said. "That's not it. I haven't made up my mind. How could I, I mean, he's never said anything concrete to me?"

Athena smiled. "Most of the women I've talked to have had their minds made up long before the guy got around to asking them. Sure, sometimes it's a big surprise, but that just usually means they blurt out a 'no' without cushioning it any because they didn't have a chance to head him off. You've been more or less dating him for the last five sectares, and except for Bojay you don't go out with anyone else. You have to have thought about it."

"Bojay doesn't count," Sheba dodged the question for a centon. "He's like Starbuck."


"I mean, he's the opposite of Starbuck... I mean, he's the best friend I've ever had or ever will have and I'll no more stop seeing him than Apollo will stop seeing Starbuck, but Bojay's not interested in me, like Starbuck is in Apollo, not even a little bit—oh, frack. Don't tell anyone."

"Don't worry," Athena said with such uttermost sincerity that Sheba didn't doubt her for a micron. "I won't. Does Apollo know?"

"Only that Boj and I are just friends, that's all. He believes that, but he's too senior for the truth. He thinks Boj's lover was my girlfriend, I think." She shrugged. "Anyway, he's never seemed jealous."

"That's so very unlike him," Athena said. "Or maybe I'm being unfair to him. After all, he never was serious before Serina, and she never gave him any cause to be jealous; she didn't have any friends." She made a little moue. "And that was unfair to her. But she was certainly fixated on him and Boxey. Maybe she was just that kind of woman."

Sheba shook her head. "I'm not. I hope he doesn't want that from me."

"Oh, he knows you're not. Though—you don't mind Boxey, do you?"

"Oh, no. I'm not going to marry him to be a mother, mind you, but I like the child well enough. I'm just not prepared to obsess over them. Either of them."

"That's all right then. I think," she lowered her voice a tiny bit, "that he knows he made a mistake with her. Anyway, I think he enjoys that you've got a life, even though I know he was unhappy when Serina trained to be a combat pilot." She hesitated. "He was actually, according to Boxey, not that happy at first when she trained to be a shuttle pilot, but he got over that."

"Well, he's never made me think he wishes I wasn't a pilot. Maybe he was just afraid she'd get killed, being new at it. Like—" she broke off.

"Like Zac?" Athena didn't miss a beat. "You may be right, at that. Anyway, he brags on you to Father, so I don't think he minds. So, you have been thinking about it?"

"Oh, I've been thinking about it," she nodded. Just what she'd been thinking, though, she didn't say. At any rate, she thought, I don't have to decide anything for a few more sectons at worst anyway, if he's waiting a yahren. But as she turned to signal a waiter, she wondered if she'd been really thinking about it at all, or just assuming. And whether it was an assumption she really wanted to spend the rest of her life living up to.

Prolog Chap 1 Chap 2 Chap 3 Chap 4 Chap 5.1
Chap 5.2 Chap 6.1 Chap 6.2 Chap 7.1 Chap 7.2 Epilog


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